David Lee Preston
Bill Marimow leaving The Inquirer Monday night.
Publisher Bob Hall’s firing of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow has pushed the bitter power struggle among owners of the hostility-ridden media company to a head.
One owner, South Jersey political boss George Norcross, wanted to impose changes at the paper, sources say, and boost the prominence of Philly.com at the Inquirer’s expense. Another, parking magnate Lewis Katz, defended the newsroom.
Interstate General Media (IGM) publishes the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com. Both newspapers also have their own websites, which, unlike Philly.com, must put their content behind impenetrable paywalls.
“For months now, Norcross has been trying to impose his will on the Inquirer, and Marimow has been fighting that,” says one newsroom source who, like others, asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
“The decision to terminate Bill Marimow … was made by me and Associate Publisher Mike Lorenca” and was “within our authority,” Hall said, according a statement issued on Monday by IGM.
Philly.com’s ascent has been at the center of the conflict. Norcross has quietly remade the site — still the main web platform for the two dailies’ material — into a freestanding and competing newsroom and put his daughter, Lexie Norcross, in charge.
The Inquirer “was the one piece of the operation he couldn’t touch,” says one source. “He controls Philly.com” and the Daily News — which unlike the Inquirer, republishes Philly.com material — and “is more cooperative with him.”
IGM, per its custom, declined to make owners or management available for an interview.
But Philadelphia magazine published from a dossier on Marimow’s alleged shortcomings that was compiled by Hall, and supplied by an un-named source. The dossier claimed Marimow opposed expanding local coverge based on reader research.
One notable point of contention, however, was Marimow’s resistance to fostering a “more collaborative relationship with Philly.com.”
Reporters question Philly.com’s editorial decisions, which include writing headlines like “Company gives away vibrators to keep you busy during the government shutdown” and allowing former Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent to advise readers to “stay horny.”
In May, reporters were infuriated when the site announced that Tom Corbett, who is also employed as the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, would write a column for Philly.com. Marimow assigned a story on the decision, which described Hall as calling Philly.com “not bound by traditional newspaper conventions.” Lexie Norcross was quoted as saying, “Considering that the Inquirer and Daily News slam him every day, I think it’s actually equal, giving him a chance to speak.”
One source called the article “kind of wonderful, but bizarre: So now the civil war was spilling into the papers. And Lexie Norcross looked terrible.”
In August, City Paper revealed that the Inquirer’s opinion pages would be cut in half. Sources blamed Norcross.
The immediate pretext for Marimow’s firing was his refusal to fire certain senior employees, according to sources.
On Monday, Hall insisted that “five out of six of our directors/owners have concurred in our decision to terminate” Marimow even though such approval was “not required.”
Sources believe that Katz opposed the move and was not told about it beforehand.
The Phillymag dossier says that IGM chairman Gerry Lenfest, a major area philanthropist, was part of a July meeting in which Marimow was told he would lose his job if he didn’t make changes.
Lenfest, however, told the Inquirer that he was not informed about the firing before it occurred, and has now publicly protested the move. One source believes that Katz may now sue, arguing that Norcross violated the company’s partnership agreement.
For months, Norcross has operated as a steamroller at the paper, consistently winning the day in fights over Philly.com and editorial page cutbacks. The brazenness of Marimow’s ouster may force the dissident owners to act.
“I don’t think that they have a choice, but I also don’t know how battle-ready they are,” says one source. “They have to take this fight.”
Marimow, who could not be reached for comment, has said that he hopes to return. Others are pessimistic: “I guess Norcross won,” wrote one.
Another said the dismissal seemed more “like the end of a showdown” than the beginning. But what this source doesn’t understand, like others, is the endgame: What does Norcross want?
[Note: City Paper has obtained internal IGM documents explaining Marimow's ouster, previously reported on by Philadelphia magazine. Read here for a detailed look]
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